Why Menstrual Cups are a Greener Alternative to Tampons & Towels.
Part One: Cuppin’ It — Parting The Red Sea with Green.
Before you start reading this piece, you should know that this is a personal article written about menstruation, menstruation cups and the ins-and-outs (hello!) of it all.
Don’t be intimidated!
There I am, 22- years-old and being ‘schooled’ on all things menstruation by a 15-year-old on the Internet. After mulling it over, I’ve decided to give menstrual cups a go.
Precious Star Pads is a teenage YouTuber, who knows more about what’s going on inside my body than I will ever know. She’s young. Really young. And I can’t deny it feels odd being taught about something so traditionally representative of womanhood by someone at least five years younger than me.
But hey — she’s got the knowledge I’m lacking; I am her period Jedi and she my Yoda.
A menstrual cup is a small, reusable, medical-grade silicone cup that is used to collect menstrual bleeding thus dispensing for the need to use throwaway liners, pads or tampons.
Without that YouTuber, Precious Star Pads, I wouldn’t be ‘cupping it’ as I am today.
My first impressions of these cups were that maybe they were maybe designed for women who’ve already given birth. As someone who’s always struggled with the insertion of tampons — occasionally to the point of frustration-tears — I was anxious, once I had seen one, about how I’d comfortably fit a cup inside myself.
However, I think back to a Sexual Health check up and I remember with fondness my nurse telling me: “You’ve had bigger things inside you. It will fit.”
(She was, of course, referring to a tiny speculum at the time.)
When the cup arrived in the mail — after I’d spent hours picking the size, shape and brand online — I was anxious but determined not to let it beat me.
I liked the peach-skin finish which is smooth and soft and it doesn’t look too scary. Aside from the ribbed stem, that is. And let me tell you, in this instance, it’s NOT ribbed for your pleasure. (The ribbing means you can get a grip on the stem when you want to remove the cup.)
In practise, using the menstrual cup takes some getting used to; as my online research taught me, there are lots of different folding techniques. Now, I’m no Boy Scout, but I’d say I’ve mastered two — and one is my clear favourite. There’s the U-Fold (also known as the C-Fold) and then the Push-Down option.
I prefer the Push-Down, because it makes the rim a lot smaller, tighter and easier to insert.
(Something to keep in mind — when you put your cup in, no matter what fold you do, it will ‘pop’ open.This may feel strange at first but it really is something you’ll get used to and nothing to worry about.)
Getting It In:
Some people say squat, some people say balance one foot on the side of the bath. My preferred technique is laying down. Lay down on your back and tilt your pelvis up. It’s the only way I can get the cup in in comfortably. (I’m also clearly not changing my cup in the day — there’s no lying down in public cubicles.) But it’s all about what’s comfortable for you; practice, practice, practice.
Also, try inserting the cup with the help of a lubricant. I’ve been reassured that this is normal by the ever-educated (in this area), Hannah Witton. Hannah is an online guru for all things sex education and regularly posts candid content on YouTube.
Keeping It In:
The first few times I used my cup, every time I went for a wee I was certain it was going to fall out. It wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. But there I was, trying to hold it in with my pelvic floor muscles and my hand, whilst trying to wee at the same time. Don’t worry like I did — unless you pull it out, it will stay in.
Getting It Out:
Getting it out takes practice too, but once you get there it’s easy as 1, 2, 3.
Or — relax, gently pull on the stem and ‘bear down’.
Before trying out Menstrual cups, I was unsure what people meant when they suggested ‘bearing down’. But once you’ve got it in position, you’ll understand. Use your pelvic muscles to squeeze down and out, whilst gently pulling on the stem of the cup.
Practice makes perfect. But, in the meantime, do not panic. An entirely accurate representation of the menstrual-cup-panic is the Hannah Witton linked video posted above — “Wait, …is that my cervix?” “What if I can’t find it?” “What if it’s stuck?” “My fingers aren’t long enough.” “This is absolutely terrifying…” — but honestly, it becomes as second nature as pads and tampons are to you now. With the bonus of being way better for the environment.
Part Two: Parting The Red Sea with Green
I never found pads comfortable.. Nor are they ethical, or planet-friendly. I didn’t know just how un-eco-friendly they are until I started researching the topic.
Did you know that the typical menstruating female will get through 250–300 pounds of “pads, plugs and applicators” in their lives?
Dr Mercola, from the Worlds #1 Natural Health Website, Mercola Online, suggests the “average woman in the US will use 16,800 tampons in her life.”
One pad/tampon has the equivalent of four plastic bags in the making of it, so here’s a little maths:
4 (plastic bags) X 16,800 (tampons) = 67,200 plastic bags.
That’s a hell of a lot of waste plastic that gets thrown out into the rubbish every month!
To put things into perspective, it can take up to 1000 years for a plastic bag to decompose. This means that every disposable sanitary product you’ve ever used, thrown away and forgotten about is still out there in the world somewhere.
Because menstrual cups are typically made from medical grade silicone, there are some restrictions on how you can recycle them, but it can be done.Plus, using cups will save you money. The Huffington Post worked out that, on average, women in the UK will spend over £18,000 in her lifetime on her menstruation routines. In the same article, the women included in the polls said they spend an average of £13 a month on pads, tampons, liners or cups.
£13 (per month) x 12 (months) = £156 per year.
Let’s say, for example, that the majority women have periods throughout 13–55, that’s 42 years of periods (if these hypothetical women were lucky enough to be regular!)
£156 x 42 (years) = £6,552.
Buy pads, tampons and liners for 42 years, spend £6,500
Buy cups for 42 years, spend £80. (£20 (cup) x 4 (replacement every 10 years) = £80)
It seems logical doesn’t it; save your pennies, AND save the world.
Exploring Greener Alternatives:
Now imagine having nowhere to live and having your period. According to Bristol-based organisation No More Taboo, there are more rough sleepers in Bristol than any other city besides London in the UK.
“Having your period is the worst time for a woman to be homeless. It just gives you that extra blow” — a homeless woman told No More Taboo in Bristol, 2016.
Not only does No More Taboo work to reduce the environmental impact of disposable sanitary products, the organisation also invests all its profits back into charitable organisations to tackle the taboos surrounding menstruation and sanitation across the world.
If ‘cupping it’ really isn’t for you, then there is another option. Sustain Natural is “committed to always putting your health first” as well as “being better for Mother Earth” but without asking you to use menstrual cups. Sustain Natural sells ethically-created sanitary products including pads and tampons, FairTrade latex condoms, lubricants and more.
With even more bang for your buck, Sustain Natural recognises that “there are over 20 million women in the US who lack access to reproductive health care.”
To help redress this, the group gives 10% of all profits to women’s organisations.
Whether you’re queen of the cups, all cupped out or intrigued by the art of cupping, I hope this article has inspired you in some way. If nothing else, we need more conversations about the environmental impact of sanitary products.
We need more conversations about periods.
And we need more conversations about viable Green Alternatives to disposable sanitaryware which, in reality, is anything but disposable.
(Images from Bloody Hell, which is a bad-ass #periodzine by Soofiya Andry. You can find it here!)